December 23, 2014

Blackwood pens novel, gains Grammy nomination

by Andrea Hahn

Scott BlackwoodCARBONDALE, Ill. -- Scott Blackwood, assistant professor of creative writing in the Department of English at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, has more than the usual reasons to look forward to 2015. His newest novel, “See How Small,” debuts from Little, Brown and Company on Jan. 20. And his work on “The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, Volume One (1917-27)” received a Grammy nomination. The Grammy Awards Show is Feb. 8. 

Media Advisory

Scott Blackwood is available to the media, including print, broadcast, and radio, for interviews about his book and the Paramount Records project. Contact him at

 “See How Small” begins with a real-life event, a quadruple murder that is known in Austin, Texas, as the 1991 yogurt shop murders. A contaminated crime scene, a long delay in formal charges and arrests, new DNA evidence, overturned murder convictions and the unsolved murder of four teenage girls are all true-life elements in the novel. 

Despite the story’s origin, Blackwood’s book is fiction. “I really had to break free from the actual events and a strictly realistic style,” he said. “The characters had to be able to tell their own stories, not to be a story told by someone else. The power of ‘Story’ is part of this story.” 

Blackwood’s previous novel, “We Agreed to Meet Just Here,” won several awards, including a substantial Whiting Award for fiction, and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award for the Novel. However, Blackwood said, the novel did not reach a large audience. That will change with “See How Small.” 

“The difference in promotional resources between large and small presses isn’t just huge, it’s unimaginable,” he said. “I didn’t realize that until I saw how it all worked.” 

“See How Small” is already receiving praise from reviewers at “Publishers Weekly,” “Library Journal” “Booklist,” “Chicago Magazine,” and other publications, and it will be a featured review in “The New York Times” in January. The novel is available now as a pre-order from Amazon, and will be widely available Jan. 20. 

Blackwood is also the author of a collection of short stories, “In the Shadow of Our House.” 

Blackwood’s skill at building a narrative arc finds a whole new expression in a music restoration project -- and resulted in a Grammy nomination in Best Album Notes for his narrative book. 

“The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records” is an ambitious restoration project undertaken by Jack White, formerly of the music group the White Stripes and head of Third Man Records, and Dean Blackwood of Revenant Records. Dean Blackwood is Scott Blackwood’s brother. 

Paramount Records was home to dozens of mostly black American blues and jazz artists in the early 20th Century -- some of the greatest from the era, including Ma Rainey and Louis Armstrong. Paramount’s goal was to make records to sell with the Victrola cabinets the parent company, a furniture store, sold -- not to preserve music. Much of their musical success was accidental, Blackwood said -- Paramount recorded more than any other early record company. White and Dean Blackwood set out to restore not just the music, but the cultural artifacts surrounding it. 

That’s where Scott Blackwood comes into the picture. He wrote the 120-page narrative about the rise and fall of the record label, chronicling the lives of individual musicians, record executives and talent scouts who played such a big part in the larger story of Paramount and helped reshape American popular music and culture. He wanted to bring these individuals' stories -- who seem distant from us now -- to full-blooded life. 

“I didn’t know a lot about this (period of music); I had to read a lot of biographies,” Blackwood said. “I’m not writing for the archivist; I’m writing for people who care about narrative.” 

Promoting the music collection hasn’t been the typical rock and roll tour. The highlight stop was a highly publicized appearance at Yale University last October, where White, Dean Blackwood and Scott Blackwood led a panel of speakers at an event dedicated to Paramount Records musicians and their place in American culture and music history. 

“(The whole experience) has been very cool,” Blackwood said. 

The collection also received a Grammy nomination for Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package.